Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To What End Hell? A Brief Discourse

I think the most interesting part of the entire "hell" debate is how often everything devolves into proof texts and theological quandries. Specifically, "people choose to go to hell" or "all means all" or "God is too nice" and so on and so forth. My thoughts on this topic have been hinted at elsewhere but for the moment I want to conduct a little exercise.

I'm going to list a series of passages that I believe at face value support each view. This is not to say advocates of each view appeal to each verse, but these are the common verses I would appeal to if I was to defend each view.

Universalism --

Philippians 2:5-11. Romans 5:12-21; 11:32-26. Colossians 1:15-20. Ephesians 1:10-11; 20-22. John 3:16. 1 Corinthians 15:22-28. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19.

Annihilationism/ Conditional Immortality --

John 3:16-17. Matthew 10:28; 25:41, 46. Ecclesiastes 9:5. Jude 7. Romans 6:23. Malachi 4:1-3. Revelation 20:10-15. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. Isaiah 66:24. Matthew 18:8.

Eternal Conscious Torment --

Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10-15. Matthew 25:46. C.S. Lewis (yes, this is a joke).

You will notice that save for the Universalist position, Conditionalists and Traditionalists share common texts, often engaged in systemic discussions over tenses and the like. The Universalist has two issues to address: how to engage the "negative" texts in a faithful way, and how to build a positive case.

The Conditionalist and Traditionalist have an easier job, in that they appeal to varying interpretations of many of the same texts, thus not needing to answer the set of "positive universalist" texts.

In short, the three views are overlapping but there is a strong disconnect between Universalism and the other two views. Certainly Conditionalists and Universalists share a common view of the final victory of God, but the similarities are slim. Same with Traditionalists and Conditionalists regarding "final and irrevocable" punishment.

One of the few flaws in Edward Fudge's masterful The Fire That Consumes was in regarding his treatment of Universalism. Though I know Edward to be a generous soul and love his ministry, he never tries to explain the Universalist texts that seem to contradict his own interpretation. In my eyes, this is a missed chance to incorporate various prima facie contradictory verses.

This is in some ways indicative of the entire modern hell debate: Universalists react strongly against Traditionalism while more or less ignoring Conditionalism, and so on and so forth. To be fair, you do have a little bit in Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God addressing annihilationism but it is brief and doesn't do the contradictory perspective justice. Each side seems to react more towards a specific view at the exclusion of another view.

Conditionalists and traditionalists, in order to answer for themselves, need to bring Universalism into the dialogue in order to not only understand their point of view, but how to speak up. I know Edward Fudge and Robin Parry are friends, so this may have happened in private but I am looking forward to a massive anthology that incorporates all views in multiples voices that allows for dissention and dialogue.

Let's get Thomas Talbott, Robin Parry, David Congdon, Edward Fudge, Glenn Peoples, I. Howard Marshall, Robert Peterson and Christopher Morgan all together and duke this out. No more speaking past each other. Each side must explain the other texts.

Of course, I may be speaking to the choir but this is an issue that has bugged me since the beginning.




  1. I regard and address the annihilationist position not as false, as much as much short sighted compared to the CU position. What do I mean?
    I used to and still do see and believe in annihilation, I just no longer believe it is the last word in God's overall purpose for mankind overall. God will indeed annihilate the wicked, the unbelieving, the effeminate, the drunkard and the sorcerer etc., but when He does, out of the 'fire' will rise a new creation, forged in fire!

  2. nice post..can you follow me too?

  3. As someone who holds to Universal Reconciliation, my understanding of hell as ultimately redemptive is my answer to annihilation. What is wicked, evil, etc will be annihilated and cease to exist. FWIW, I have a series on universal reconciliation: Get some girls into the cage match. ;)

  4. The "set of texts" is so huge that it's difficult to account for everything, but I find with some regularity that non-universalists often don't account for key details in their own preferred subsets.

    Which is why I like to build my arguments from their own preferred subsets where I can. {g}

    (Which also reminds me I still have a counter-rebuttal to Joseph's rebuttal to polish up and submit. {lopped g})